NFL’s coronavirus count rises with new positive tests

By Ken Belson and Ben Shpigel
The New York Times Company

For the second straight week, the NFL is grappling with the fallout from positive coronavirus tests, an existential threat to the league’s adherence to playing the season according to its schedule.

As most of the league practiced, as usual, on Wednesday, more discouraging developments surfaced in New England and Tennessee. The Patriots’ star cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, the league’s defensive player of the year in 2019, was revealed to have tested positive just four days after a positive test by the team’s quarterback, Cam Newton, was confirmed. In Nashville, two more Titans tested positive, running the team’s total of players and employees who are known to have contracted the virus since Sept. 24 to 22.

The positive tests were announced two days after the league put into place new measures meant to halt the spread of infections, protocols added after the NFL scrambled to push back two games in response to new cases.

“We just have to continue to close any loopholes,” Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said Wednesday on NFL Network. “We’ve said all along, ‘We know this is going to be hard.’ This virus is a relentless opponent. It needs only a small crack. And even 90 or 95% with our protocols is not enough. That’s not a passing grade because that still leaves us a bit vulnerable.”

Gilmore’s infection forced the team to cancel practice Wednesday and jeopardized the Patriots’ home game Sunday against the Denver Broncos, the second time New England would have a game moved, after their meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs was delayed a day in the wake of positive tests from Newton and a Chiefs practice squad quarterback, Jordan Ta’amu.

While the Patriots have so far reported only two confirmed cases, the Titans are dealing with a much less contained outbreak. The team must now return two consecutive days of negative tests before it can be cleared to re-enter its facility. The Titans have not been permitted by the league to hold in-person practices since playing the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 27.

The Titans’ initial outbreak, reported after that game, caused the NFL to reschedule the team’s Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers for Oct. 25. The latest round of positive tests this week imperils their home game Sunday against Buffalo.

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